Jumbled days of being lost in the catacombs of Smith Memorial Student Union may be numbered. Members of Smith Advisory Board, with help from the Student Fee Committee and the Smith 2020 steering committee, plan to solve the aging building’s woes.
Built in four stages beginning in 1950 and concluding in 1960, SMSU has served as the central hub of activity on campus for students and faculty for the last 66 years. The building might be on its last legs, as infrastructural issues have plagued the building’s operations since its inception.
“Its time has come and gone,” said Alex Accetta, PSU’s executive director of campus recreation. “It just doesn’t meet what our campus and students expect of our university. It’s not sustainable. It’s not accessible. It’s not inclusive. It’s falling apart.”
Accetta is considered an instrumental figure in the realization of PSU’s recreational facility. He is now helping students get the Smith project off on the right foot. He believes the timing is right for a push to get funding secured for a more usable space where students can spend time in a clean and healthy environment.
“We have to spend $13 million just to keep the building the way it sits,” Accetta said.
Accetta feels that any money intended for repairing the building could be better spent on a more drastic overhaul. He is not alone in his thinking.
According to Jonathen Gates, operations director at the Associated Students of PSU and chairperson of the SAB, the origins of the project began during the 2011-12 school year when ASPSU began looking at solutions for the building’s shortcomings.
Plans for overhaul
Through $150,000 of financing provided by the Student Fee Committee, the SAB had a series of analyses done by both Dull Olson Weekes-IBI Group Architects and Perkins+Will, student union designers, to see what could be done in solving the maze of issues the building is well know for.
Gates is making the SMSU building project the center of his attention. He believes students will be supportive of the endeavor.
This April, students will decide whether to pass a referendum to increase building fees to cover a construction project on campus. Building fees are currently $45 a term. If SAB gains the support of students, they hope to raise that cost 25-60 percent.
Although the SAB is in early stages of decision-making, the group has narrowed its vision to two possible solutions: The first would result in a $65 million project; the second option would be in the neighborhood of $90 million.
“It is likely that the most ambitious project will include renovating portions of the building and rebuilding as much as 60 percent of the total building,” Gates said.
PSU student James Runez doesn’t like the idea of any kind of increase to his cost of attendance.
“I pay for this education, to become a person that serves his city, as our motto says, but how can I serve when I am further indebted by one construction project after another?” Runez said. “I want to be of assistance, but why should the renovation be carried on the backs of the students attempting to better themselves?”
Runez acknowledged that abatement work associated with asbestos or lead pipes should be a priority, but thinks affordability and inclusivity issues outrank campus construction projects.
A future unknown
Many on campus begin their day at SMSU either to grab coffee, snag a snack or cram for a test. The building offers students accommodations such as study space and advising, but the building’s age and accessibility are growing concerns to some.
The upcoming referendum will not be the first time Gates has worked on language for this project. Last year was his initial try, but because of a difficult election cycle the team decided to hold off for another year.
“The Smith advisory board and the Smith 2020 steering committee will be working over the next few weeks to determine which option is most effective and which to present to the students,” Gates said.
For questions or to get involved with the SMSU project contact Jonathen Gates at [email protected] Watch for the Vanguard’s continued coverage of the Smith 2020 project.